I’ve been preparing for the graduate course, “Children’s Literature in Teaching Writing,” I’m teaching in June every time my daughter goes down for a nap, heads to sleep, etc. I read through a sleuth of journal articles last month in order to pick the right ones for the course. One of the articles I read, “Using Authors as Mentors,” was written by Aimee Buckner for Primary Voices. Buckner wrote something that made me think about mentors in a different way:
In the fall, as my students and I get to know each other as readers and writers, I share with them the things I do as a reader and a writer. For example, I tell them about my mentors. I have mentors for teaching, mentors for parenting, and mentors for writing. We discuss what a mentor is and how mentors can help them become better readers and writers (1999, 7).
You know, I’ve had mentors in all aspects of my life for years, but I never recalled explaining the concept of the different places I have mentors. While the students who are taking course should be much more comfortable with the concept of a mentor than young children are, I think I’m going to introduce the idea of mentors by taking a cue from Buckner. (After all, much of what I will be doing in the graduate class will be easily transferable to the classroom.)
I wanted to think about a true mentor relationship I have outside of the parenting (I look to my own parents incessantly!) and teaching (Too many incredible people to name and describe in this blog post!). I immediately thought about my passion for cooking. I have a cooking mentor, but it’s not Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, or my Dad (all of whom I admire greatly, but for different reasons). Rather, it’s my next-door neighbor Lori.
Lori and I became fast friends when I moved to Pennsylvania nearly three years ago. We quickly bonded over a love of food. Not only does Lori love to cook and bake, she’s really good at it. She can make everything from succulent chicken to homemade blackberry and cherry ice cream to the most authentic matzoh ball soup I’ve ever tasted. We often trade recipes when one of us has made something we think the other will enjoy. After Isabelle was born, she brought dinner over my family for an entire week. Not only did she bring us food, she gave us 30 – 40 menus (i.e., main dishes and sides) to choose from so we could have exactly what we wanted every night. (How incredible is she?)
But I’m not done. You see, there are two other things that make Lori my cooking mentor. First, she has an organic garden in her backyard, which is a labor of love. She grows fruits, vegetables, and herbs. When I expressed an interest in growing an herb garden of my own, she helped me understand which kinds of herbs I could successfully grown (so they wouldn’t be eaten by deer) and how to grow them. She guided me though my purchase of potting soils and mulch. (Remember, I had been living in a city for 12 years prior to moving here.) She even gave me tips on how to plant my herbs and tend to them as the weather got warmer. With her guidance, I have had two successful summers with an herb garden on the side of our house.
The other reason Lori is my food mentor is because her kids are great eaters. When we first moved to town, I invited her and her kids over for dinner since her husband was out of town for a few days. I asked her, “What do your kids eat?” when preparing my menu.
“Anything,” she replied.
“Anything?” I asked, skeptically.
“Yes, make whatever you’d like and they’ll eat it,” she stated.
She was dead serious. Her kids ate everything I made, of which I remember a couple of menu items, which were lime chicken and a vegetable tian.
Since that time I’ve learned that her children have a sophisticated palette. They eat everything the grown-ups in the house eat for dinner every night. Late last summer they declared that the basil from her herb garden tasted too bitter so she called asking if they could pick a few basil leaves from my herb garden (Of course!) for the tomato, mozzarella, and basil sandwiches they were making.
As a parent who doesn’t want to make separate food for my child, I’ve repeatedly asked Lori what her secret was for getting her kids to be accepting of all foods. Her answer was pretty simple. She told me that when her kids were babies she pureed everything she cooked for her and her husband (for the kids). And then, as they got older, her children just continued to eat what their parents were eating. In addition, she limits the amounts of kid foods (e.g., chicken nuggets) she has at home. With those simple principles in mind, I have begun to feed my daughter with the same no-nonsense approach to food preparation. I cook it and she eats it (with the exception of the times she’s teething and doesn’t want to eat anything other than Cheerios and milk since utensils must irritate her already tender gums). As a result of my unwavering mealtime approach, which I mentored after the way Lori has raised her children to be flexible eaters, there have been only a handful of struggles since Isabelle started eating solid foods. Thankfully, my daughter has a diverse palette which includes all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Oh, and she eats kale nearly every day. While some people might say I have a good eater on my hands, I truly believe I have a good eater on my hands thanks to my neighbor’s mentoring of me as a mom who cooks for her baby daily.
So, now that I’ve told you about one of my mentors, I’m curious about yours. Who are your mentors?
5 thoughts on “Who are your mentors?”
I’m really glad that you shared the Buckner quote. I haven’t talked about other mentors either. This comes at a perfect time when I can be thinking about different mentors over the summer. With writing, I feel like I have more ideas than ever before because I have been trying new types of writing in the last couple of years (and of course the slice of life community is on the list)!
For other areas, one that comes to mind is with scrapbooking. Some of my recent mentors are Ali Edwards, Becky Higgins, and Heidi Swapp. Their ideas will actually cross over into my writing workshop, so they will end up impacting my students as well, at least indirectly.
My writing mentor is Jane Yolen. Her writing is everything I wish mine could be. She blows me away with her word choice, rhythm, and the characters she creates.
I love that you didn’t just say Lori was your food mentor, but you used what Jeff Anderson talks about in his recent book–why is she your mentor, and what does she do that you want to do too? When I think about mentors how you have suggested, I realize that I do have mentors for almost every aspect of my life. Hairstyles, healthy living, church, teaching, parenting, etc. I think it’s great to talk about all the mentors as a way to introduce writing mentors. Love that!
I LOVE the quote and actually have it in my writer’s notebook from a graduate course I teach! I wrote about one of my mentors, my sister-in-law, for one of the March SOL days. In the early days of my marriage, I watched how she cooked for a crowd effortlessly and sought the chance to be in her kitchen to see how it was done. I never cook for a crowd withouth thinking of how she cooked for a crowd every day. Before I children, I watched her raising hers with love and acceptance that I tried to emulate when I became a mom. My daughter’s first “real” meal was a taste of pasta (lasagna) probably on Easter Sunday. I learned that you how to “butterfly” a bad cut at home (as long as it was not in a critical area) and save the stress of an emergency room (trust me that one came in handy!) I learned how to celebrate with your children during the good times and pray for your children during the hard times. When she passed away suddenly, she left a void in my life so deep that it took me a while to understand my sense of loss. I do understand now that she was not just a family member, she was a “life mentor.” Sometimes, one of her children will say to me, that reminds me of mom, and I smile, because it probably does.
Like you, I have many mentors. For one, you have been. Your honest and true blog posts encouraged me to Slice the month of March and feel like a real writer. Thanks. Another mentor in my life is my mother-in-law. She is 80 and she is presently in Morrocco. Does that say anything? She is a exercise buff, so we walk our dogs together often which has given us time to talk and grow our relationship. I miss her when she is on her exotic trips. But I know she is fulfilling her dreams. Last year she took me with her to Greece, a trip of a lifetime.
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